This term is used as an explicit category of identification for example for the purposes of the Census, and most equal opportunities monitoring in Britain. It is used to describe the skin colour of the inhabitants of Europe and their emigrant populations.
While this term is literally inaccurate, it is also considered to have connotations of power and progress, for example ‘white civilisation’. However, ‘white’ can also have less positive connotations when linked with ‘supremacy’ or ‘racism’ and has been problematised for being interpreted as the ‘norm’ against which ‘others’ are differentiated.
The term has been criticised for its over-simplicity and it has been noted (Anthias and Yuval Davis, 1995) that there is often little interest in determining the varying ethnicities of those included within ‘white’. In this way, it has been suggested that the term can racialise Britain as a white space from which the ‘other’ is differentiated. It is important therefore not to accept and consider ‘whiteness’ as an undifferentiated, homogenous category without its own internal dynamics and hierarchies. While ‘whiteness’ can be a marker of privilege, it is also important to recognise that many white people have, in fact very little social, political, economic and cultural power.
www.leeds.ac.uk/cers/toolkit – section 2.3, Unpicking Whiteness.
Anthias, F & Davis Yuval, N. (1995) Racialised Boundaries: Race, Gender, Colour and Class and the Anti-Racist Struggle. London & New York: Routledge.